There is a lot to see in Great Falls, from majestic waterfalls to wildlife along the many hiking trails, to the C&O canal. On the Maryland side of the park it’s also possible to step back to the 17th Century and see what life was like along the canal in the 1870s by taking a canal boat ride.
The boat has two levels, with the top having slightly better views than the bottom. It is run by park rangers in period costumes who keep the kids entertained throughout the hour long ride along the scenic C&O canal by telling jokes, stories, and playing the accordion. The ride begins by entering one of the park’s numerous locks and rising eight feet. Then, the real highlight of the ride begins, which is watching the boat get attached to the mules (walking along the canal’s adjacent towpath) that pull the boat on its journey. Overall, it’s a nice, relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
Be sure to allot some time to explore the park before or after your ride. It’s about a 1/2 mile walk to the waterfalls from where the boat lets you off. But, if you don’t feel like walking that far simply strolling along the towpath is a lovely walk. The park is also a nice setting for picnic or game of tag. There is also a very small free museum in the visitor’s center explaining what life was like in the area hundreds of years ago.
Tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the park’s visitor center and cost $8.00 for adults and $6.00 for children four and up. Children three and under are free. We recommend calling the visitor’s center at 301-767-3714 before heading out for a boat ride as rides may occasionally be canceled if the canal’s water level is low or other unforeseen circumstances. The boat runs from April to June on Wednesday, Thursday & Friday at 11:00am and 3:00pm and Saturday and Sunday at 11:00am, 1:30pm, 3:00pm. The schedule for the remainder of the year is not available yet, but in year’s past, rides have taken place through October. We recommend arriving at least one half-hour before the scheduled departure time to allot enough time to purchase tickets and walk to the boat. There is room for stroller storage on the bottom level of the boat.
Entrance to the park is free, but parking costs $5.00 per vehicle. The path to the boat and the surrounding areas are flat and stroller-friendly. There is a family bathroom near the parking lot with a changing table. There is plenty of space to picnic as well as some picnic tables. There is a refreshment stand near the parking lot with food like hot dogs and muffins.
Note that the park is completely trash-free. This means there are no trash cans and you are expected to take all trash with you when you leave. If you do not take your own trash bag along there are a few points with plastic bags for trash in the park, but you must take the bag with you to throw away elsewhere.
Photos by Jamie Davis Smith.